Whatever it was called, the purpose of the reporting, the reporters, and the papers that ran the articles was to expose corruption, graft and just plain old evil in the echelons of government and big business.
Of course, there was also a hope that this exposure would end the reported abuses or, at the least, get rid of the worst abusers and most corrupt men involved.
Magazines in the first wave of muckraking included McClures, Colliers, and Everybodys and some of the better known writers were Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida Tarbell.
Other magazines and newspapers became the victim of the news medias shift to broadcast journalism. In the earlier days of that medium, there were many bold attempts to re-create the investigative form. Television news shows like 60 Minutes began in this mold, but now rarely present investigations that would upset the apple cart of the corporations that fund them.
During the 1950s and 1960s a few magazines appeared that represented a second wave in US muckraking: Ramparts, Scanlans, IF Stones Weekly and even more mainstream journals like Playboy and Esquire ran pieces that fell within the confines of this journalistic form. Of course, perhaps the most famous investigative journalism of the past century appeared in the pages of the Washington Post and New York Times with the publication of Woodward and Bernsteins investigation of the Watergate scandals and the Pentagon Papers, respectively.
For the magazines and newspapers that still exist from that short list, those golden days are ancient history. Except for the occasional series on city crime or local graft, these papers and magazines are mere shadows of their earlier selves.
Fortunately, there is CounterPunch. Like a select few of its counterparts on the right and the left, this paper expands the limits of journalism, running investigative reports, commentary, announcements and cultural criticism both online and in a paper version.
Edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, this journal often reminds me of Ramparts in its glory days. Going well beyond other leftish magazines like The Nation, Mother Jones and The Progressive, and maintaining a stubborn independence not found in organizational journals, CounterPunch is a consistent source of reporting that goes to the heart of the matter. Radical in its essential definition.
Jeffrey St. Clairs most recent book, Grand Theft Pentagon, is a collection of muckraking exposes of the corruption and greed that help fuel Washingtons wars. Many of the pieces in the book originally appeared in CounterPunch, but their presence here in one volume brings together the full force of the theft and corruption we live with.
Although the scope of the ruling elites arrogance is easy enough to see, the scope of the corruption isnt. St. Clairs book changes that. The relentlessness of his reporting details exactly how broad and how deep the graft and outright theft of our national treasury and soul by the rich and powerful truly is. Needless to say, its a depressing tale.
Whether hes detailing the fraudulent manipulations of federal contracts specified for indigenous peoples by white guys with offices in Virginia or the no-bid contracts of Halliburton and General Dynamics, St. Clair provides the reader with detail after researched detail of the grandest larceny in history. Let me remind you theres been some tough competition for that title.
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